Although the origins of Split are often associated with the Roman construction of Diocletian's Palace, the city was actually founded by the Greeks in the 4th century, as the Greek colony of Aspalathos, or Spalathos. The settlement traded with the local Illyrian tribes, including the Delmatae. Roman domination came after the Illyrian wars of 219 to 229 BC, and they then founded the Province of Dalmatia.
While Split may today be the capital of Dalmatia, it lived in the shadows of the more powerful neighbour of Salona. Split's fortunes began to change when Emperor Diocletian, whol ruled from 224 AD to 305 AD) started the construction of a lavish retirement home, which today remains the city's top attraction 1700 years later - Diocletian's Palace.
The Palace was a massive structure on the water, with walls 170-200 metres long and 15-20 metres high, with some 38,000m2 of internal space, and included an aquaduct water supply that still serves the city today. The population of the palace was up to 10,000 people and Diocletian established Marjan as a recreational area for its residents. As so the first Roman Emperor ever to retire spent his last years in Split.
The Sack of Salona in 639 AD by the Avars led to the decline of the once great city, and its poulation fled to the islands of Dalmatia, finally returning to the mainland in 650, when their leader Severus the Great persuaded them to move to the palace until a return to Salona might be possible.
The city remained in the possession of the Byzantine Empire until the fall of Constantinople, and the region was occupied by a Byzantine principality. An independent Dalmatian language emerged, based on Latin. After the fall of Ravenna in 751, it was administered from the port of Zadar, and remained somewhat independent, enjoying significant privileges.
In 925, Tomislav, Duke of the Dalmatian Principality of Croats, united much of th region under the Kingdom of Croatia, whic emerged in the hinterland of the city. Allied with the Byzantines against Simeon I of Bulgaria, Tomislav had his seat in Nin, near Zadar, and the Bishops of Nin gained jursidiction over the Church in Croatian terriroties. The most famous of them, Gregory of Nin, whose statue is today the most famous in Split, and who attempted to institute the Slavic language in religion in the Croatian territories.
The coastal location of the city meant that it was constantly of interest to the parties struggling for naval control of the Adriatic, in particular the Narentines and the Venetian Republic in the 9th and 10th centuries, and the city pledged allegiance to the Venetian Doge Pietro II Orseolo in exchange for protection in 998. Direct control was asserted by Emperor Basil II in 1014 eith the defeat of the First Bulgarian Empire.
The city's fortunes were intertwined with the struggle between the Kings of Hungary adn the Venetian Republic, as well as the Kingdom of Naples, and a 377 year period of Venetian rule only started once Ladislaus of Naples sold his disputed rights on Dalmatia to the Venetians for 100,000 ducats. The Venetian rule was a period of growth for the city, and it grew in importance as a port, supplying the Ottoman-held interior, while culture also flourished, including the first modern work of Croatian literature, Judita by Marko Marulic, which was printed in Venice in 1521.
The 19th Century brought brief but significant Napoleonic rule (1806-13), with large investments in the city, including new streets. The Congress of Vienna had allocated the city to the Empire of Austria, and the Split region was administered under the Kingdom of Dalmatia until 1848, when that revolutionary year threw up the concept of union of Dalmatia with the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia. It was a period of stangnation for Split.
The 20th Century was one of upheaval and change for Split, and it had various masters throughout the century, before emerging as part of the independent state of Croatia in 1991. After the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the province of Dalmatia fell under the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, changing to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929.
More turmoil occurred in April 1941, with the invasion of Yugoslavia by Nazi Germany, and Split was formally annexed by Italy one month later, a move which was heavily resisted by the local population. With the Italian capitulation in 1943, Tito's Partisans briefly held the city before the Wehrmacht established it under the authority of the Independent State of Croatia a few weeks later. The city was fought over and bombed by both sides, before falling to the Partisans on October 26, 1944.
Peace brought the Socialist Republic of Croatia, a sovereign republic of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which saw a huge economic and demographic boom, with the city tripling in size, and shipbuilding in particular hit boom times. It became the larget passenger and military port in the federation, and hosted the 1979 Mediterranean Games.
Croatia's declaration of independence in 1991 led to a tense stand-off with the JNA troops stationed there and the Croatian National Guard, but the former evacuated from Split in January 1992.